Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Robert Gagliardi

Better prepared to contribute

UW's Okwoli in mix to replace departed veterans at wide receiver


August 18, 2017

COURTESY/ SHANNON BRODERICK/ Boomerang photographer

Wide receiver John Okwoli, right, runs down the field during practice Tuesday morning at the University of Wyoming.

LARAMIE – John Okwoli played in every game during his true freshman season for the University of Wyoming.

Yet, 2016 was still like a redshirt year.

The 6-foot-2, 207-pound wide receiver didn't catch a pass, and said with a smile the only time he got into games as a receiver was when the Cowboys were "winning by a lot."

However, Okwoli played on all four of UW's special-teams units and recorded three tackles.

"When I got here, I told myself I didn't want to redshirt," Okwoli said. "I wanted to help my team right away and show the coaches even though I was young I could still contribute."

Okwoli, who is from North Canyon High in Phoenix, was given a three-star rating out of five by, and coming out of high school. He had scholarship offers from 11 different schools, including Boise State, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico State, UNLV, Utah State and Washington State.

Okwoli wants to make more contributions at wide receiver this season, and feels like he is better prepared to do so.

"As far as knowing all the playbook, it felt like a redshirt year last season, but it helped me learn the playbook and the entire offense better," he said. "Last year was fun. We were winning games, and I learned a lot from the older guys."

Two of those older guys – Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt – are gone. As seniors in 2016, that tandem combined for 1,940 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.

UW has three returning receivers who caught passes last season – sophomores C.J. Johnson (21 catches, 304 yards, three touchdowns) and Austin Conway (11-103) and junior James Price (6-75).

"(Okwoli) is going to be that fourth guy, I think," UW junior quarterback Josh Allen said. "He has progressed really nicely. It's a big difference from where he was last year to where he is this year. We have a very good chemistry and hang out quite a bit off the field.

"I wouldn't say he is the fastest guy, but he can definitely go get a ball. He is very physical at the line. He is very trustworthy and doesn't drop very many passes."

Ankle and knee injuries slowed Okwoli's progress during spring drills. Okwoli has been healthy through the first half of fall camp, and fourth-year coach Craig Bohl said Okwoli has been a lot like the other experienced receivers on the team who look to have bigger roles this season.

"Those guys look around the room now and say, 'Now is my time,'" Bohl said. "You're seeing accelerated growth."

Okwoli continues to get a lot of work on special teams, and relishes those opportunities. Now, he is looking for more opportunities at his natural position.

"I'm getting off the ball better, learning how to use my feet and also using my hands getting off (man-to-man coverage)," Okwoli said. "Overall, I'm bigger, faster, stronger and more confident than I was last year."

Another preseason watch list for Allen

UW junior quarterback Josh Allen was named Wednesday to the Manning Award preseason watch list.

Allen was one of the 30 quarterbacks to be named to the list, which also includes fellow Mountain West quarterbacks Brett Rypien of Boise State and Nick Stevens of Colorado State.

The Manning Award will name a field of 10 finalists Nov. 30, with the winner announced in the week following the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Practice report

Wednesday was practice No. 15 of 24 prior to the Cowboys starting game week Aug. 28.

With the Cowboys officially in the middle of the dog days of fall camp, coach Craig Bohl said he mixed things up a little bit, with work on what he called "unusual situations" during a game.

UW certainly had its share of those last season, including two games that lasted three overtimes. In one of those, the Cowboys needed a 98-yard drive in the final minute against UNLV to send a game into overtime.

They also needed to stop a two-point conversion on the final play of regulation to beat San Diego State during the regular season.

"Those things sometimes come up in the course of a year," Bohl said. "It's amazing to me when a situation comes up, and if you haven't covered it already, you get upset with the players that they don't know what's going on."

Bohl added he always wants his players to be in a learning mode during practice.

"Any time that there's no new learning, there's no learning going on," he said. "The attitude of the team has really been excellent.

"We're making good use of our time. To keep them engaged and doing something meaningful is important."


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